By 2018, 35 percent of online travel bookings will be mobile. In the words of Fast Company, Airbnb will usurp the InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide as the world’s largest hotel chain — without owning a single hotel. How will your brand compete with modern travel apps like Airbnb?

Social Visibility is Vital to Discovery

Airbnb’s growth dominance in the travel industry is a key indicator that apps dictate how we travel and plan. Travel brands need to focus on the small screen in order to get the big returns. With such stiff competition, marketers must reposition their travel brands by leveraging the social and search discovery marketing tactics in order to stay competitive against the growing home-away-from-home booking app.

In 2015, travel brands need to inspire action from new tourists in a relatable, conversational tone to be visible on a customer’s radar. Airbnb does this through user-generated content — reviews, photos, and host descriptions are built right into their app. Their interactive presence on social media like Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook inspires travel fever, and subsequently generates purchases.

Because 92 percent of consumers trust social media above all forms of advertising, Airbnb knows the best way to do that is through social media content that stands out. Other travel brands should take note before they’re left in the dust of a neighborhood discovery tool.

AIrbnb boards on Pinterest.

Marketers looking to optimize for mobile discovery should note that rich, visual content and responsive design are the best avenues to drive mobile traffic. This means creating content that is not only eye-catching, but easy to navigate. For the budget-strapped travel marketer, social media provides fast access to both as well as an audience to boot.

52 percent of Facebook users said their friends’ photos inspired their travel plans. When executed in the right way, this creates a great cycle, because 76 percent of travelers post vacation photos to social networks.

This affects all types of traveler — business travelers on a tight schedule, families looking for a weekend getaway, leisurely tourists, and budget vacationers are all looking for opportunities to start or join a conversation about their next destination. Give them what they want.

Travel brands looking to compete with modern social giants like Airbnb must develop an engaging and quantifiable social media strategy to drive action from user generated content and social campaigns. The goal is the same for any travel brand: ensure your destination is a priority on- and offline for any tourist-to-be.

Inspire Action Through Visual Content

Managing the community and customer satisfaction on social media leads to positive reviews and potential for new tourists to start planning their next adventure. This means that travelers should be encouraged and inspired to write five-star reviews, share their photos on social media, and join the ongoing conversation travel brands create. A comprehensive social marketing strategy targeted around the interests and pain points of target markets can create engagement that fuels action, whether those are shares or purchases.

One of the best channels to keep brands at the top of audience engagement is Facebook. The social media giant is increasingly becoming a digital storefront for front-facing customer service with users recommendations and conversations between users and brands. Staying at the forefront of your brand conversations opens new doors to capture market share from dissatisfied customers and build advocacy with your established fan base. After earning a like from a future or past customer, build their trust with content that provides an escape from their daily routine. That mental break could lead to their next vacation.

The happiest place on Earth is a great reference point for travel brands looking to build a strong social engagement strategy. Disneyland is a family-friendly travel destination with an interactive Facebook page and engagement out the ears. Photos of happy tourists are posted on all of their Facebook posts with a high amount of shares and likes.

What makes them stand out is that they post engaging, high-quality video and photo content on a daily basis. Visual content works especially well on Facebook, specifically for a place with so many sights to see.

By incorporating contests and picturesque scenery, Disneyland turns their digital brand experience into a vacation of its own. This captivating media helps build the desire and anticipation of the users next return and creates a strong connection to the brand that keeps them top of mind for an upcoming vacation. By leveraging this strategy across all devices and social platforms, travel brands can create an immersive and continuous experience that follows users from device to device.

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Here’s where Airbnb falls flat. Inspiration for booking a trip to Disneyland happens due to the theme park’s responsive social media presence, but a simple search of Airbnb shows that there’s nothing close to Anaheim at all. Airbnb creates a path to a home-away-from-home, but when homes are not built near Disneyland, the customer journey ends in the app.

Given that the travel destination is the reason to move, hotels with better placement have the better booking opportunity as long as their own social media presence positions them top of mind. Remember that, at its core, Airbnb listings are out of the way.

When it comes to travel destinations, a social community that can sustainably convert dreamers and travelers into influencers with high-quality photos and videos creates a two-pronged offense of fan interaction and community management.

If Disneyland were to continue to improve their social media strategy, they would find an opportunity in building their Pinterest account. Travel brands thrive in this platform as it offers mobile users an engaging and stimulating environment to build connections with brands and share their travel dreams with friends.

Though TripAdvisor’s notoriously hard-to-please audience recommends Morocco as the top destination, the most pinned location is Paris, France followed by the Eiffel Tower. Pinterest shared with Mashable that most were fairly predictable, but other locations like Montana and Texas had a bit of a surprise factor.

The list includes both destinations and attractions, meaning that a popular theme park that doubles as both could improve their Pinterest engagement.

With brand engagement and easy access to social media, tourists have the motivation and the tools needed to share their vacation from their mobile devices with those who stayed at home, building desire and sparking curiosity.

With discovery at the touch of an app, this has created the perfect landscape for an app like Airbnb, which has high-quality, visually comparable listings, to thrive.

Simplify User Research

Even after the booking, there’s still an opportunity to engage with travelers.

With a focus on the destination and not the stay, Airbnb has personalized listings in parts of the city that are inherently out of the way of major destinations. Especially useful for those who travel for events, Airbnb provides a cheaper and personalized alternative to hotels once the flight’s been bought.

Tourists have more control before they book than ever before. With diverse listings on Airbnb, the budget-minded tourist can have their needs fulfilled as well one looking for a home decked out in Victorian furniture.

Airbnb provides value in the sense of community with a wide variety of options to stay targeting both new hosts and new guests. The fantasy of a wonderful host with great suggestions, new experiences, and a beautifully furnished home with reviews to confirm any thoughts made Airbnb an attractive option for budget-minded tourists and business travelers. Additionally, putting more control in the user’s hands to list, book, and review their stay creates an environment that members feel more connected to, which further builds advocacy.

Airbnb UI.

Also overlooked is the social app’s ease of use. Just this summer, Airbnb hosted nearly Though hotels can be booked with just a phone call, Airbnb has a wide variety of listings that just take a tap from their mobile device to make a request. Easy stuff.

Here are examples of the topics mobile travelers are ready to consume:

  • Weather and climate
  • Restaurant reviews
  • Things to do

With an Airbnb host, travelers can talk to a real person about all of these topics before they even arrive. Their content is their host. But other brands, with knowledge of the kind of content they will be looking for, can serve them up on a social media silver platter with easily digestible content. Leveraging travel intent and considerations into new the next thing published.

Facebook not only lets advertisers target for interest, it predicts future travel by what’s shared and what’s on a user’s newsfeed with Intender locations to major destinations like New York or Mexico.

Most importantly, tourists want to educate themselves before they travel, so helping them throughout the planning process is one of the keys to the trust built into Airbnb’s system. To be successful, travel brands should learn from Airbnb’s successes and integrate more community features that help move users through the purchase process with comfort and confidence.

Staying in a guest room disrupts hotel chains that have made their business on their calculated locations and inherent need to travelers. Thankfully, hotels have new technology to do booking, checking in, and checking out all from a smartphone, and dedicate resources to building a reliable community not found in Airbnb. Some hotels have transitioned their room keys into a smartphone-enabled code built into emails and hotel apps to appeal to the mobile influence on the modern traveler.

Another thing the two have in common is that Airbnb, and, in some cases, Uber as well, provide brand ambassadors with each booking. The host (or driver) is local who know the town better than anyone these vacationers know.

Normally a disadvantage, Airbnb hosts offer a more localized and less automatized stay that lets guests feel less like tourists. Many Airbnb guests also feel as though they are dodging high prices by staying in someone’s house as though they were a friend. Hotels now have to compete by offering more amenities or by creating a better experience for tourists to book.

The Point

Here’s the differentiating factor: Airbnb is engaged before, during, and after the booking. With content that provides value to curious tourists, a simplified UI, and a process that encourages hosts to provide a full experience for guests, their streamlined, all-in-one strategy is growing quickly in the tourism industry.

Hotel brands need to step up the quality of their digital storefront and social presence if they want users to see the value they provide. Visibility is key. Social media marketing is the starting point to community management and customer service from discovery, action and their trip back home, but a major quality boost is necessary to keep up with Airbnb.

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